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Has anyone ever asked you, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?”
How do you respond? Latina? Mexicana? Salvi? Cubana?
College is the place that will definitely force you to confront this question. It’s one you probably didn’t think about anything about until you set foot on campus. I know this from experience because it happened to me.
All my life, I identified as Dominican and Puerto Rican. Other times Dominiriqueña or Dominirican (or whatever combination my friends and I came up with that day). As a native New Yorker, I didn’t really have to think about my race or ethnicity. Most people I ran into could guess in seconds. That all changed when I moved across the country to attend college.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 to start my Freshman year at LMU. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I was the only Dominiriqueña from New York on campus. At first, I’ll be perfectly honest, I was thrilled to stand out this way. My curly mane, my mocha skin color, and my NY accent became my image at school. I welcomed the attention, the confused looks, the questions, like, “What are you?” “Are you Black and Mexican?” “Where are you from?”
It got to the point where I started introducing myself likeso,
“Hi, I’m Ariana from New York. I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican. Anything else you’d to know?” Just to get ahead of the questions I knew were coming.
At the same time, I became obsessed with notifying the world just who I was; I blasted merengue in my car, I bought D.R & P.R. flags, put them in my car, on the walls in my dorm, my laptop and on every single notebook I owned.
By 2nd semester Freshman year, I had had enough. The thrill was gone. I was frustrated with the confused looks and the constant questions. I was completely homesick, craving tostones, someone to understand my accent, someone I didn’t have to explain myself too.
I was so exhausted, I took down most of my flags and I stopped introducing myself with my ethnicity first. I didn’t want to stand out anymore. I just wanted to be myself. Not the boxes everyone was putting me in.
It was time for me to decide how to respond when they asked, “What are you?” but I struggled for years during and after college to find something that fit. I tried Dominican and Puerto Rican, I tried Latina, I tried Caribbean Latina, I tried Black Latina, I tried Dominican, but none of them felt just right.
It wasn’t until I filled out the Census, I learned that Dominican, Puerto Rican, or Latino wasn’t even categorized as a race, but under ethnicity. ‘Hmmm, okay,’ I thought. Now I had to figure out what I considered myself racially. Technically, when the Spaniards invaded Hispanola, they “procreated” with the native peoples, the Tainos, and later, Africans that were imported as slaves.
As I continued to research, I found this term, Afro-Latino being used. I dug deeper and then was like the clouds opened up and the Angels sang: that was it! I am Afro- Latina.
Although I finally found a term I am comfortable with, at the end of the day, it still doesn’t encompass all of me. I am not just my skin color, hair, my weight, my race, ethnicity. This applies to all of us.
Our class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, hobbies are parts of what make us whole. These parts create experiences for us that leave an indelible mark on our personalities beliefs, and principles. So when someone asks you, What are you? How will you respond?